Do you remember the days of February – early, mid and late? It was a panicking month, most remarkably on and after February 28 when the International Crimes Tribunal sentenced top Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee alias Deilya Razakar for committing war crimes as a collaborator in Pirojpur during the 1971 Liberation War.
Mindless attacks by Jamaat-Shibir men along with children, women and ordinary Muslims to save the convict spread fast. They attacked the law enforcers, Awami League supporters and Hindus; they damaged state assets including the railway sector through subversive acts; and spreading propaganda through false news and doctored photo on the social networking sites including Facebook and blogs.
After dozens of deaths, millions of losses and panic biting the people, the government failed to bring the situation under control and ensure peace for the commoners. It has failed to take legal action against the cadres and the instigators so that recurrence could be avoided. The government also didn’t take stern action against the well-known online propaganda machines and their moderators who gave instructions of uprooting railway tracks, attacking the police, spreading hatred and urging the Muslims to sacrifice their lives to save the top Jamaat leaders from facing the war trials.
Now, after a year, the government and the media assume that the Jamaat-Shibir and the anti-Awami League bloc would be active, and this time, in a more dangerous mood since Sayedee and party chief Motiur Rahman Nizami are going to be awarded sentences for war crimes any day – appeals case of Saayedee and war crimes case against Nizami.
At the eleventh hour, it is learnt that the intelligence agencies have been working to trace and monitor the cadres, conducting drives to nab the suspects and be on high alert. Some 1,000 party men have already granted bail.
We, the people, have to stay alert too, again. It’s unfortunate though.
Let me share with you Dipu Moni’s speech for diplomats on March 7, 2013:
Diplomatic Briefing by Hon’ble Foreign Minister on ‘the Recent Violence and Atrocities committed by Jamaat-Shibir and their Allies’, Thursday, 07 March 2013, UNCLOS Conference Room at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dhaka
Members of the Diplomatic Corp,
I thank you for your presence this evening on a short notice. I felt it necessary to share with you our Government’s perspectives on the recent incidents of violence and atrocities that we have experienced in different parts of the country. I also wanted to share some messages that we would like to convey to our friends in the international community.
As you are all aware, the orchestrated violence and reign of terror across the country was unleashed in the aftermath of the International Crimes Tribunal-1 (ICT-1)’s verdict on 28 February 2013 convicting Mr. Delowar Hossain Sayeedi of crimes against humanity and sentencing him to death for the charges proved against him beyond reasonable doubt. Mr. Sayeedi, who is also the Nayeb-e-Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami Central Committee, has been found guilty by the Tribunal of committing murder, rape, torture, persecution, forced religious conversion and abetment during Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971. It may be noted that the Tribunal has also acquitted him on a number of charges.
It is well recorded that the leadership of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its affiliated students wing Islami Chhatra Shibir have been engaged in a systematic propaganda at the local and international levels to undermine the war crimes trial process and implicate the ICTBD in controversies ever since the trials started in 2010. However, since the pronouncement of the first verdict by the ICTBD on 19 January this year, these radical and extremist quarters had publicly launched a nationwide continued offensive of violence and criminal activities that have created mayhem and a serious threat to Bangladesh’s national and public security and law and order.
It may also be noted that there has been nationwide unprecedented and spontaneous mass uprisings of the youth of Bangladesh, inspired by the ‘Shahbagh Movement’ at the ‘Generation Square’ in Dhaka, since 05 February 2013 which widely covered by the domestic media, had peacefully but firmly protested the ICT-BD’s second verdict against Mr. Abdul Quader Molla as disproportionate sentence. These peaceful protests have set a global example of how a youth-led national movement can exercise freedom of expression and assembly through peaceful demonstrations. The ICT verdicts and the peaceful nationwide protests in fact had initially been the main source of outrage of the Jamaat-Shibir cadres and perhaps placed them at a strategic back-foot.
However, they soon re-emerged on the scene with their nefarious designs, including attempts to malign the Shahbagh movement and targeted attacks against the Movement’s social bloggers and organizers with a view to weaken the movement. They have systematically incited fabricated propaganda against the bloggers and organisers of the movement for being involved in anti-religious and anti-Islamic activities using religion for political ends. Their alleged incitement in radicalizing the youths that were involved in the murder of the blogger movement’s leader Ahmed Rajiv Haider is well established now.
They even made a public threat to create a civil war like situation in the country if the ICT verdicts convicted their leaders of charges of crimes against humanity and genocide or unless there was a reversal of the court verdicts. The widespread violence and atrocities that we have witnessed across the country in the last few days has been a materialization of that threat. These threats made it evident that due to its failure to come to terms with the past war crimes of its leaders and purge itself of its tainted leadership and legacy, the Jamaat-e-Islami has lost its standing and credibility as a political organisation among the mainstream Bangladesh population. The Jamaat-Shibir is currently faced with almost an existential crisis and, true to their historical nature of making their points and protests through desperate violent and terrorist means, they would not cede the ground without creating complete anarchy and their intended ‘civil war like situation’.
As a Government responsible for ensuring its people’s protection and well-being, we cannot allow such atrocities to be committed with impunity and in an indiscriminate manner. There is no way our Government would show any tolerance to violent and unlawful means of protest that the Jamaat-Shibir has opted for to strike a blow to the democratic and secular foundation of this country and its socio-economic stability.
One would notice that the reign of terror that the Jamaat-Shibir wanted to create in the country had an unmistakable resonance with their heinous activities during the days of 1971. They have resorted to creating fear, misgivings and insecurity among the civilian population and have launched violent and targeted attacks against the police, BGB, RAB, Ansar and other public officials and their families. We have shared with you a list of atrocities committed by the Jamaat-Shibir since 28 February in different part of the country and the casualties that occurred.
Firstly, like any terrorist organization, they have mounted attacks against certain key point installations around the country such as power stations, television centre, police stations, local government and district administrative offices and trains and rail lines. They have made it a point to create anarchy by striking at infrastructures and public transports even at the potential cost of causing massive loss of human lives. They have not even spared the Shaheed Minars from their marauding spree to desecrate the symbols of our national unity and identity. These are planned and deliberate attacks not just against the Government, but against the State of Bangladesh.
Secondly, you would perhaps notice that there have been systematic attacks against strategic institutions or installations that would undermine our Government’s particular achievements in maintaining a civilian security, steady economic growth, increasing power generation, creating the base for a digital, knowledge-based economy and building a democratic and secular polity as envisaged by our Constitution. The destruction of the Palli Bidyut Samity office in Shibganj, Chapainawabganj has alone bled the power sector of financial loss worth Taka 200 crores approximately. The railway sector has been badly hit with a clear motive to frustrate our Government’s efforts to revive and strengthen this ailing sector after a long hiatus. A number of train wagons have been burnt to ashes in Rajshahi and Dhaka, rail lines have been derailed and station rooms destroyed, causing financial loss to the tune of Tk. 8.5 crores.
The terrorist tactics of the Jamaat-Shibir has been manifest in the way they had thrown off an engineer to death from the roof of a Parjatan motel in Chapainawabganj; had brutally attacked an elderly Hindu man as he tried to resist their rampage and later succumbed to his injuries in Banshkali, Chittagong; had killed a former Chhatra League leader by attacking him in a pre-planned manner in a local garage in Sylhet; had torched with petrol an autorickshaw carrying two fish traders who suffered serious burn injuries in Netrakona; or, had mercilessly hacked to death a number of police personnel in Gaibandha, Bogra and elsewhere.
Thirdly, in a stark reminder of the days of 1971, the Jamaat-Shibir cadres and their supporters continue to attack houses, temples and prayer premises of the religious minorities. In most instances, as in Bogra, Joypurhat, Sirajganj, Noakhali or Chittagong, these have been done in a pre-planned manner, and on occasions, violent Jamaat-Shibir processions suddenly veered towards pre-dominantly Hindu neighbourhoods and launched indiscriminate attacks against them. We believe that a Government is best judged by its performance in protecting its most vulnerable citizens, especially minorities. I can assure you that our Government will not tolerate any attempt to harm our religious minorities in the name of bigotry and extremism. The Government felicitates the local people in some areas that have taken affirmative action to resist such attacks and maintain communal harmony through concerted efforts.
The Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged people to form vigilance committees in every locality around the country to resist such terrorist attacks. We hope that people from all walks of life and all shades of political opinions would come forward to take part in these local level initiatives and stand by the law enforcing agencies. We take heart from the fact that the youth, business community and civil society of the country have reacted negatively to these rioting, vandalism and arson attacks and have rejected the hartals/ shutdowns called by the Jamaat and BNP for four days during this week.
Fourthly, the Jamaat-Shibir has also resorted to the worst forms of obscurantism to serve their traditional narrow-minded and self-serving agenda. In some parts of Chittagong, they incited violence by disseminating the absurd image of one of their convicted leaders being visible on the moon. We are equally shocked and outraged to see the use of women and children as human shields to allow Jamaat-Shibir activists to carry on with their rioting and vandalism under cover. We are particularly concerned over reports of allegedly using Madrassa students in such violent activities. These are contrary to the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the National Children Policy 2012 that prohibits use of children for political and terrorist activities.
Finally, it is hard to imagine any religious sentiments being invoked to perpetrate the kind of brutality that we have seen being wreaked upon the police in the last few days. Since 28 February, seven police personnel have been killed; among them, four were killed in Gaibandha, one in Rangpur, one in Chittagong and one in Jhenidah. During the last four months, 569 police personnel have been injured in confrontation with the Jamaat-Shibir cadres. We recall that the police were one of the first victims of the mass killings and atrocities that were unleashed on the people of Bangladesh on the fatal night of 25 March 1971. In continuation of that trend, the Jamaat-Shibir and their allies have initiated a campaign to destroy the morale of our police force by killing their members.
Despite such provocation, the members of Bangladesh Police and Bangladesh Border Guard deployed for maintaining law and order have faced the situation with utmost patience and forbearance. They had to resort to firing only in self-defense and in the interest of maintaining public order and security, after having exhausted other riot control mechanisms. This is the standard operating procedure for the law enforcing agencies everywhere.
Since 28 February through 5 March, 60 people are reported to have been killed in different parts of the country, including general people without any political affiliation. The Government would ensure that thorough investigations are carried out concerning every incident of death and any reported excess committed by the police be dealt with through the prescribed judicial measures. Our Government remains committed to zero tolerance to any form of impunity within our uniformed services. Within this parameter, our law enforcing agencies would maintain an uncompromising stance against any form of violence or terrorist acts under the pretext of political activities to save convicted criminals. Again, till 04 March 2013, a total of 235 cases have been lodged in connection with the violence in different parts of the country and 1,572 people arrested so far.
As I speak to you, the Government has been largely able to contain the spread of violence by now, which remains concentrated in certain identified pockets of the country. We have heightened intelligence operations and deployed additional police and BGB forces in the violence endemic areas. The local administration has been instructed to keep a watchful eye on the developments throughout their jurisdictions and identify the particularly vulnerable areas in light of the violence trend witnessed during the past few days.
The district administrations have started distributing relief and reconstruction materials to the affected families and households including those of the Hindu minorities. The law enforcing agencies are also being geared for intensive training to enhance their preparedness to combat such violence and threat to public security from potential future violent behaviors that are likely to be perpetrated by the Jamaat-Shibir and their allies, especially in reaction to the subsequent ICT verdicts and the ongoing trials. We would need to foil or counter those calculated moves by mobilizing the united force and resolve of our people who have rallied behind the trials in quest of the justice that eluded them for four decades. It would also be critical for our Government to identify the root causes behind the radicalization among our people in the violence-prone areas and address those causes through long-term development and awareness building strategies.
We believe that the strongest firewall against the Jamaat-Shibir violence has been built by our youth in the Projonmo Chattar in Shahbagh. Their peaceful rallies and demonstrations have stood in sharp anti-thesis and rejection to the path of violence, murder, arson and vandalism chosen by the Jamaat-Shibir and their allies. The Shahbagh youth would like to see justice being ensured for crimes committed against committed against this nation and its people at its birth, and thereby pave the way for national reconciliation with this bloody chapter of our past, and keep the values and ethos that defined our struggle for independence alive in our national discourse and consciousness. The ICT trials therefore, stand as a critical threshold that we would need to cross over as a nation to carry on with our nation building activities in the spirit of peace and reconciliation. Our Prime Minister has said it on a number of occasions in unequivocal terms that no measure of violence or anarchy would derail us from our resolve to try the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity and genocide in our midst and thereby uphold universal justice not only for the people of Bangladesh but for the entire humanity.
I believe that the Shahbagh movement has also got some important messages for our friends in the international community.
Firstly, it is an expectation of the people of Bangladesh that the international community would help in the memorialisation of the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide that were committed in Bangladesh in 1971. It is also our expectation that the international community would express solidarity with their legitimate demands for justice against alleged war crimes offenders as a matter of universal principle against war crimes, which would be the best reparation that we could possibly offer to the victims after these 42 years.
Secondly, there is an expectation that the international community would take a holistic perspective about the ongoing trials and its significance for our nation building efforts, rather than looking at them only through the frame of the technicalities or procedures involved in the trials. Those of you who are better attuned to the historical political context of Bangladesh would surely appreciate that we need to ensure retributive justice for the crimes against humanity and genocide committed in 1971 to pave the way for restorative justice through truth and reconciliation in our society. The sentencing of the convicted criminals should send out an unqualified message to all concerned that the people of Bangladesh would never allow such crimes to be perpetrated on our soil – ‘never, never and never again’, as said President Nelson Mandela!
Thirdly, while we would expect the international community’s appreciation for a new paradigm being set by Bangladesh to conduct the trials of certain internationally defined crimes through exclusively domestic tribunals and a strong sense of national ownership, we would – as I said earlier – remain open to any constructive and legally feasible suggestions to ensure further international standards in the trials in line with the evolving process through which they have been taking shape.
And, lastly, the international community should also react to the fabricated propaganda run by the Jamaat-Shibir and their allies and supporters that the ICT had been a excuse to politically undermine and persecute leading Islamist leaders and thinkers. It is unfortunate that such a false and malafide notion had gained some sympathies within the political circles and media establishments of some of our friendly countries without delving into the antecedents of the accused and the convicted criminals. We have seen how such misguided demonstration of support in certain foreign countries has been used by the Jamaat-Shibir to drive home their point among their local sympathizers about these trials being a pretext for political persecution only. We urge all friendly governments to show respect to the overwhelming popular demand for justice emanating from the people of Bangladesh and join in their condemnation of those that have been found guilty of committing crimes against humanity.
The difficult course of righting the wrongs of the past that Bangladesh has taken upon itself would not just signal an end to the culture of impunity here in this country but would also have profound implications for opening up the possibility for justice for the genocides or ethnic cleansings that have been silenced in other parts of the world and wiped off the collective memory of the world.
I thank you.